Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Dr. Howard Fuller, Director of the al- chemically named Institute for the Trans- formation of Learning at Marquette University and former Superintendent of the Milwaukee School Board, comes to Toronto pleading the case for Afrocentric (or Africentric) schools.

You will notice, however, that he is at pains to avoid mentioning too often Afrocentrism or Black-focussed schools specifically, preferring instead to persuade us of the righteousness of his cause by invoking the universally acknowledged value, indeed virtue, of choice.

Dr. Fuller, clearly, is no fool. At least not in the political sense. Given, that is, that his record on the Afrocentric file is far from stellar. To wit: during his tenure as superintendent of the Milwaukee School Board, he was responsible for the opening of two Black-focussed schools, one of which has since been closed, the other, apparently teetering on the brink.* At best, then, that would make it a 50% failure (sorry, success) rate for Afrocentric schools in the Milwaukee School Board. Not quite the stuff, one assumes, that even the TDSB's dreams of social engineering are made of.

So, as I say, Dr. Fuller has decided to shift the focus of his agenda to that of choice. He says:
The issue isn't African-centred education versus not. The issue is still learning. [Erm ... what?!--ed.] And it could very well be that for a number of kids, that type of environment might provide the educational stimulus that they need to do better.
Clear as mud, Doc. But go on.
For me, that fight [in Toronto] is about parents having options, so it fits in to the broader framework of choice for me.

... In Toronto it's clear that you have a variety of different schools that offer curriculums to different types of kids and I guess I don't know why [an Africentric one] should be so controversial.

... When you have other types of schools that cater to families who want a certain experience for their kids, and no one seems to think that is divisive.
Well, I think they might if someone proposed, say, White-focussed schools--
I just also think that you ought to also have these other options, because the public system simply doesn't work for a whole lot of kids. And yet, they're trapped in it because they don't have another possibility.
Ooookaaay ... But this suggests a degree of rigidity in public schools that, I'm afraid, contradicts the experience of many of the people who have worked in them (as, I should say, I have--four in total), i.e. that they are so flexible as to be amorphous ... Did it occur to you that maybe that's your problem right there?

Well, I think it's a safe bet that this was at least one of the causes of the complete and utter failure of Dr. Fuller's experiments in Milwaukee (... I suspect, also, that the inevitable reductio ad absurdum of the man's ideology--in effect: one school for every one student--might've also had something to do with it):

He noted that when offering more choice came to the fore in Milwaukee, many believed a competitive system was going to make everything better. Seventeen years later, Mr. Fuller admitted the district as a whole is not faring any better academically.

However, access has improved immensely, he said, and "thousands and thousands of kids who would otherwise not have had an excellent educational opportunity have gotten it."

He offers up the example of a small Christian high school that opened for children growing up in poverty in Milwaukee.

The first graduating class in June of last year sent 11 of 12 students on to college. He said that without the school, seven of those graduates would not be anywhere near a college. "That to me is the value of choice."

No, Dr. Fuller, I think it's rather clearly the value of a Christian education, given that nothing else, by your own admission, has made any difference whatsoever. (Never mind the fact that the progressive tide in Ontario would appear to be working against the likelihood of this particular experiment being reproduced.)

Still, turning this into a matter of choice was a masterstroke. Look what it has done for something as ongoingly contentious as abortion--whoops!--a woman's right to choose.

Sure segregated schools are bad! But we're not talking about segregated schools, are we!? No. We're talking about choice!


*CTV says that the closure was due to "declining enrollment," the National Post says (and Dr. Fuller gives a similar impression himself) that it was because of "a lacklustre performance."